World of Warcraft: Legion's 7.1 Patch, Return to Karazhan, arrived yesterday, packing new content, a host of class tweaks, and changes to the way PvP works. What's interesting to me, though, is that this new content update continues to add structure to Legion, which essentially funnels players through a quite rigid endgame system involving world quests, and dungeon-crawling.
But before I get to that in more detail, let's take a quick look at what Return to Karazhan means to classes. There was definitely good news for Mages, Fury Warriors, Affliction Warlocks, Outlaw Rogues, Survival Hunters, and Frost Death Knights. Following seemingly endless complaints on the official forums about the performance of each of those classes in terms of their damage throughput, all received buffs that should help them become a more welcome addition to dungeon and raid groups.
Arcane and Frost Mages have had their damage on certain spells improved by up to 17% and 5% respectively, while Fury Warriors are on the receiving end of what’s pretty much an 8% across-the-board damage buff. Affliction Warlocks should also be performing much more effectively now, thanks to many of their core spells being boosted by 5%.
We'll see how these changes fare over the coming weeks, once the player base has had time to really put these buffed classes through their paces, but hopefully they will help equalize general class performance. There have been numerous complaints on the official forums about certain classes consistently being turned down for mythic dungeon content due to player perception of them being under-tuned, so hopefully these improvements will remedy that.
For those who enjoy World of Warcraft's PvP, Return to Karazhan ushers in some very welcome changes. The biggest news is that the honor leveling system has been tweaked so that when you reach the maximum level of 50 and decide to Prestige, you don't reset all the honor talents you've earned while leveling up. Speaking as someone who deliberately didn't Prestige prior to 7.1 because losing the powerful honor talents would have left my character a little too weak for my liking, I think this is definitely a good move. It essentially still requires a grind to level up through the Prestige system, but now doesn't come at such a high cost to your character's survival.
The way that PvP loot works has also been overhauled, with gear now dropping far more often than it did before. Not only that, but gear rewards now scale in the same way that world quests do, so that the item drops you get from battlegrounds and arenas should be genuinely useful to your character. This is a much-needed change – even though I reached honor level 50 prior to 7.1, I barely received any gear for my efforts, and the few drops that I did get were no match for my world quest and dungeon items that I'd earned through PvE. I'm looking forward to testing out the system to see just how high I can push my ilevel solely through PvP – my preferred WoW activity – but here's hoping it offers the same potential as comparative PvE activities.
Some classes also received slight overhauls to their PvP honor talents, with Death Knights, Monks, Druids, and Warlocks receiving the most attention. On a personal level, I was a little disappointed with the Monk changes. I've recently leveled a Windwalker up to 110, and have had a lot of fun using Rushing Tiger Palm to gap-close on other players in PvP. But that's changed now, with the talent being replaced by the far weaker Disabling Reach, which extends the Monk's slowing spell by 7 yards. I can understand why the tweak has been made – Rushing Tiger Palm was definitely overpowered, but it's a shame that the PvP designers couldn't have added a cooldown to the effect, rather than removing it entirely. It leaves Monks very vulnerable to being kited around now.
I was also disappointed that there weren't additional changes made to PvP templates. The current PvP environment still continues to favor melee characters, and is very much crowd-control heavy – especially when it comes to stuns. As a consequence, healers in particular are still underrepresented in battlegrounds, especially in base-level RBGs. That further compounds the difficulty of playing them, since oftentimes there are just one or two healers on a team, and they can easily be focused-fired by the opposition. This creates a situation where survival is tough, and deaths can come fast and often, resulting in a decidedly miserable experience. That said, it's better than it was when Legion launched – PvP was chronically unbalanced at that point – but there's still room for improvement, and I'm hoping that we'll see a second round of template tweaks soon, once Blizzard's statistics confirm players' anecdotal observations that PvP participation has tilted too far towards playing melee characters.
Back to PvE, and Return to Karazhan's biggest addition is, of course, Karazhan itself. However, the mythic 5-man dungeon is not without its controversies. Accessing said dungeon involves completing quests to gather items from four other mythic dungeons, something that is seen as very challenging for more casual players, and especially those who are in smaller guilds, or even play solo. Basically, Legion has been designed around a quite rigid progression structure, with the player first completing either world quests or normal dungeons to garner gear that will enable them to tackle heroic dungeons, and then move up to mythic dungeons, and raids. The process is quite slow and laborious, and requires a fair bit of grinding to earn the armor needed to push your item level high enough so that you can move on to the next tier of content. That, combined with the fact that mythic dungeons are quite challenging when you're only just sufficiently geared for them has resulted in many casual players feeling like they're being left behind.
Of course, there are plenty of counter-arguments to that sentiment, the majority of them boiling down to "git gud," but I do think that if Legion has a fundamental problem that could split the player base and cause people to start unsubscribing, it's this "gating" of content. Essentially, there's a catch-22 situation in the making: Players who want to try mythic content are generally going to have a tough time finding groups to take them when their item level only just qualifies them to enter mythic dungeons – but they need to complete those mythic dungeons to earn the gear that will enable them to raise their item level high enough to be a desirable addition to a mythic dungeon group. Of course, those players could try making a more relaxed group themselves with lower-level requirements, but again, having everyone in the group with a lower item level will make the dungeon that much more challenging.
I think the solution is to perhaps push the item level of gear garnered from world quests and heroic dungeons slightly higher, so that players can transition to mythic content more easily by making themselves a more attractive proposition for those who are organizing groups for mythic content. As it stands, there just seems to be a little bit of a glass ceiling between heroic and mythic content that has been further exacerbated by the arrival of Karazhan – a dungeon that the vast majority of the WoW audience want to enjoy, but not all of them feel that they're in a position to be able to.
We'll just have to see how this expansion continues to evolve, and whether the complaints we're hearing from players who are having difficulty with mythic dungeons is actually a real problem, or just a vocal minority making their presence felt on the official forums. Either way, what's great is that Blizzard is delivering on its promise to add content to Legion fairly quickly after launch, and I'm interested to see what else the developers have planned for the game. Fortunately we don't have long to wait – Blizzcon is a little more than a week away!